Water—storing it and using it—was a major concern at Qumran. The large size of the ritual bath, or mikveh (plural, mikva’ot), above, sets it apart from the others at Qumran. Some scholars speculate that it was a communal mikveh. Its location at the far southeastern corner of the settlement (number 71 on the plan in “What Do You See?”), outside the main compound, may indicate that it was used by visitors leaving or entering the community at Qumran. Or perhaps it was for pilgrimage groups who stopped at Qumran on their way to Jerusalem.

Despite its location in the Judean desert, Qumran did not lack for water. Using an elaborate system (excavator Roland de Vaux described it as “highly developed and carefully constructed”), the settlement channeled water from the Wadi Qumran into cisterns that had a total water capacity of about 1,200 cubic meters, which is an average amount fora desert settlement.

Scholars agree that two of the basins at Qumran are cisterns and not mikva’ot: the large rectangular one (photo below, numbered 91 on the plan) in the southwest corner of the settlement and a smaller round one (110 on the plan) just north of it. Neither of these basins has stairs to the bottom, which would have indicated that they were used for ritual bathing.

Steps in the basin shown below indicate that this pool (138 on the plan) is a mikveh and not a cistern. In particular, the width and depth of the last step encourages complete immersion in the water and is characteristic of contemporaneous mikva’ot in Jerusalem. That water flowed freely from the waterfalls through aqueducts into the settlement is important because Jewish religious law (halakhah) requires that the water in mikva’ot be “living water,” or undrawn, flowing water.